Joseph Palermo: Review of Jerome Corsi's The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality
We can only hope that Barack Obama is right when he tells us that the Republican smear machine will not succeed this time in distracting voters to the point of endorsing yet another George W. Bush-type disaster. "Not This Time" is Obama's familiar refrain. But with Jerome Corsi hawking his hot-off-the-press anti-Obama screed, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, and bouncing around both the Republican echo chamber and the corporate media, we will have to be vigilant in countering the Right's lies, innuendo, half-truths, guilt by association, and misrepresentations of Obama's life and record.
Where does the Republican Right find these people?
Jerome Corsi's biggest claim to fame is that he co-authored the infamous "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" hatchet job on John Kerry in 2004. Judging from the shrill and paranoid tone of Corsi's latest effort I get the impression Obama has really scared these guys this time. Corsi dedicates page after dreary page to making Obama out to be a George McGovern/Michael Dukakis "far left radical" who will soon be rejected by "center-right" voters. But Corsi's terrible writing reeks of desperation. But if Obama is just another McGovern or Dukakis why does the Far Right feel so threatened by him? My impression after trudging through Corsi's excrementitious narrative is that there is real fear out there among Republicans this year because the Democrats had the good sense to finally nominate a candidate who has great popular appeal and who is advocating a truly new direction for the nation.
Corsi also co-authored a book with Kenneth Blackwell who in 2004 was Karl Rove's hack in Ohio who directed the Bush campaign's voter suppression activities. Blackwell is also African American so Corsi makes sure his readers know early on that he's no racist and he really likes black people. But he also admits to working against Carl Stokes when he ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1967 attempting to become the first black mayor of a large American city. Corsi boasts about getting his Ph.D. from Harvard in political science in 1972 and working for the U.S. Agency for International Development where he claims to have "received a Top Secret security clearance" from the State Department. He doesn't explain why he passed up trying to become a professor at a university (my hunch is that he could never cut the rigors of peer reviewed academic research.) His main career, he claims, is in "financial services."
In this "book," Corsi cites all sorts of dubious right-wing web sites and apparatchiks including Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, John Fund, Sean Hannity, Fox News, William Kristol, Dick Morris, Christopher Hitchens, Michelle Malkin, and a vast assortment of other far-right wags and bloggers. His footnotes read like a "who's who" of right-wing Republican mouthpieces, and the book reads like a mini-right-wing echo chamber. The book is not only a fabrication of who Obama is, it is a poorly written precis for how best John McCain and the Republicans can slime and divide their way into hanging on to the White House for one more miserable term.
Corsi's view of American society is ahistorical. He might have a Ph.D. from Harvard in political science but he has no understanding whatsoever of how fundamental political rights in this country were won through hard work, organizing, and struggle. In Corsi's worldview all labor unions and trial lawyers are evil, women shouldn't have reproductive rights, blacks and Mexican immigrants should know their places, and anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman is a "socialist."
Corsi is forever fixed in 1972 like an insect embedded in resin. Every four years we repeat the McGovern-Nixon battle and re-fight the same culture war. But the bottom line is that Corsi is intellectually dishonest and he willfully lies and misrepresents his subject matter for maximum emotional effect. He impugns Obama's integrity and patriotism so many times in this work it's impossible to chronicle them all.
Much of the ground Corsi plods through is already well trod: We hear all about Reverend Wright again, and about flag pins and holding your hand on your heart during the national anthem, and ties to Islam, and to Bill Ayres, and Louis Farrakhan and all the other bullshit you can catch any given night on Sean Hannity's show. There is nothing "new" in this book but Corsi has compiled it in such a way that it will provide a lot of fodder for right-wing talk radio, Fox News, and probably much of the toxic corporate media too. The book is chock full of gratuitous attacks on everything Obama has done his entire life. Corsi even criticizes him for reading Franz Fanon in college. Corsi's "methodology" is to use guilt by association once, twice, or thrice removed, combined with lies, misrepresentations, half-truths and quarter-truths, innuendo, dubious assertions, stretched critiques, and sheer hatred of his subject matter to suggest sinister connections and motives in everything Obama has ever done his entire life.
Corsi criticizes Obama for advocating Marxist "wealth re-distribution" and "socialism," but he also attacks him for being "hypocritical" for receiving large campaign donations from Wall Street and corporations. Corsi also assails Obama for giving a speech prior to the Iraq War against the invasion, but also slams him for voting to fund the war after he became a U.S. Senator. In a weird twist, Corsi hits Obama for not calling for cutting off funding to the troops; in effect, criticizing Obama for not being Dennis Kucinich.
"Obama had to shift ground in order to explain a voting record more centrist on the Iraq War than the words of his unrecorded but highly touted antiwar speech would suggest." (p. 259) This statement comes after Corsi dedicates page after page to calling Obama a "socialist" and a "far leftist" incapable of moving to the "center."
He claims that John McCain's path to victory is to focus on "the issues," but there are no "issues" in this book, only smears and innuendo. Corsi writes: "McCain's strength involves policy issues, especially with a general electorate that in the United States is still today more center-right politically than it is far left." (p. 281) He pays no attention to the fact that on many "issues" the Republicans do not poll well. "McCain should advocate continuing the Bush tax cuts and exploring private enterprise solutions to our nation's health needs." (p. 284) Corsi calls on McCain to "repeat the reliable Republican objections that universal health care would be another bottomless Democratic pit, nothing more than a social welfare giveaway that would destroy the private health-care system." (p. 250)
On this point I agree with Corsi, McCain should definitely make that argument.
Corsi picks at scabs to try paint Obama as "anti-Israel." It is a terrible disservice to the nation fanning the flames of division between blacks and Jews just to win an election. He equates pulling US troops out of Iraq with being "anti-Israel." Corsi pushes the race button, the tax button, the abortion button, the Israel button, the terrorist button, the '60s radical button, etc. He leaves no hot button issue untouched. He uses the annoying rhetorical "we" in expressing his unqualified assertions to suck the reader into becoming part of the anti-Obama herd: "In our analysis of Obama's experience as a Chicago community organizer trained in Saul Alinsky's radical socialist methodologies, we warned 'Change,' a slogan first introduced by Alinsky, was nothing more than a code word for the typical income redistribution those on the left have sought since the days of Karl Marx. Here, in Obama's proposal for increasing the capital gains tax, we find proof for the point." (p. 246)
David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, is Corsi's bete noir in his morality play. He claims that Axelrod has constructed out of whole cloth a "cult of personality" around Obama that can be easily punctured: "Obama, like Dukakis, is vulnerable to negative information about his past that can burst any cult-of-personality bubble that public-relations experts, such as Axelrod, can try to create around a political persona." (p. 283)
Corsi is a big fan of nuclear weapons and a big advocate of "Mutually Assured Destruction" as a great way to run international relations. He clearly views nuclear weapons as if they were any other kind of weapon -- unless a US adversary such as Iran attempts to get them. Then he advocates Bush-style saber rattling and threats. "This is truly the crux of Obama's argument," he writes: "because we do not demonstrate moral leadership, other nations have no choice but to proliferate nuclear weapons. At the base of the argument, Obama is saying a world with nuclear weapons is our fault." (pp. 261-262) Someone should inform Corsi that cowboy diplomacy has already been proven to be a miserable failure.
"According to watchdog OpenSecrets.org," Corsi writes, "Wall Street investment firms and U.S. law firms representing multinational U.S. corporations in their global operations lead the list of Obama bundling contributors." (p. 252) That fact is very interesting to learn after chapters of text claiming that Obama wants to "redistribute" the nation's wealth. Gee, I wonder why all those companies are giving money to a "socialist" candidate.
But the silliest and most petty attack Corsi musters up is where he slams Obama for being a secret cigarette smoker. He states that Obama's smoking "should be a trivial concern," but three paragraphs later launches into an wholesale indictment based on this "trivial" matter: "A person who has to hide his or her smoking appears to be living in a lie. Moreover, New Age guys do not smoke; New Age guys who smoke out of sight cannot be trusted. A New Age politician dreaming of change and hoping for the future is not an image consistent with a guy who has to smoke cigarettes on campaign breaks just to make it through the day. Maybe that's the way Obama takes such care to maintain the pretense he is a nonsmoker. The smoker image conflicts with the campaign personality Axelrod is trying to craft, so much so that Obama hid the habit from a reporter who had become like a friend to him. If Obama takes pains to hide his smoking from us, what else does he take pains to hide?" (p. 235)
Visions of "terrorist fist jabs" danced in my head.
But Corsi is not finished with the smoking section: "Obama's secret smoking may not be a trivial issue after all. Looked at from a certain perspective the habit is a crack in the wall, a flaw that calls into question whether the persona Axelrod has crafted for Obama is who Obama really is, or simply the person Axelrod wants us to see." (p. 235) Corsi segues from Obama's smoking to a strategy to beat him: "Defeating Obama will require removing the mask Axelrod has placed before Obama's face, so that important segments of the electorate can fully appreciate how radical, and politically unacceptable to them, his policy views truly are." (p. 235)
Corsi also pounds Michelle Obama for writing a senior thesis as an undergrad at Princeton on "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." Corsi sees Michelle as "angry" and a devotee of "black power" but also slams her as an "elitist" because she was educated at Princeton. Here's how Corsi inelegantly puts it: "Michelle might have been raised by a middle-class black working family on Chicago's South Side, but while being educated at an Ivy League school she indulged in the luxury of experiencing alienation, instead of being grateful for the opportunity. Nor was the impression diminished when the public learned that Michelle, like Barack, also got her law degree at Harvard, in 1988." (p. 233) So Michelle Obama is an "elitist" who "indulged" in feeling alienated as part of a tiny minority of black students at Princeton. According to Corsi, she should have just shut up and been "grateful for the opportunity."
And that leads me to one of my observations about this wretched book: Corsi cuts these people no slack whatsoever. Whether he's talking about Obama in high school or college or chronicling the Obamas' biographies, which are pretty extraordinary, he ignores their accomplishments while manufacturing phony beefs like Barack's smoking and Michelle's senior thesis. Corsi looms over Obama's life like a great white god judging his every move, every decision, every book he read or person he learned from. Corsi's attitude is that of the old slave master -- the white supremacist. The tone of the entire book is Corsi telling us in every conceivable way that this lowly black man has nothing to offer.
And that racist attitude leads me to raise the further question: Who the Hell is Jerry Corsi to judge Barack Obama? Obama has more intelligence in his little finger than Corsi has in his entire body. It's strange to read an utter mediocrity like Corsi casting judgment on a truly talented individual, but it is typical coming from the increasingly desperate and pathetic Rightwing.
From reading even the Preface it is clear that Corsi, like Karl Rove, is still smarting over losing the culture wars of his youth. He reminds me of David Horowitz (who he cites more than once in the book) because he's always bitching about the "black militants" and "student radicals" and the "feminists" who populated the campuses when he was in college. I suppose Corsi was too busy being a "good" Nixon Republican to have any fun and watched in horror while the anti-war activists and longhairs were getting laid and enjoying themselves, hence his lifelong career as a hatchet man for the Far Right. How else can one explain such vituperation?
Corsi pretends to be "patriotic" and he claims to be all about the flag and the military and "values," etc. But his politics of divide and conquer, black versus white, young versus old, rich versus poor, make the country weaker. At one point in the book he claims to admire Robert F. Kennedy. But Corsi's prescriptions are totally the opposite of what Kennedy advocated at the end of his short life. He would be appalled at Corsi's callousness toward the working class and the poor in this country and in the world, and for his racist diatribe against a person of Obama's accomplishments and character.
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Chris Peck - 10/9/2008
I wonder if the reviewer will be voting for Mr. Obama?....Hummm, one can only guess.
Jim Good - 8/30/2008
I don't know about that scandal, but if it's true I'm sure Corsi would claim it was the result of a liberal conspiracy against him. I'm only aware of his investment venture in Poland in which he apparently bilked $1.2 million from private investors and avoided paying judgments by moving the money to his wife's name. And then Debbi Schlussel claims he's plagiarized her columns. Of course, this is all in addition to homophobic conspiracy theories about Bush's North American Union and 9/11.
Bill McWilliams - 8/25/2008
Given Mr. Corsi's background of having been busted on what used to be called a "morals" charge, he has no right to criticize the character or conduct of anyone.
If memory serves me correctly, his arrest and conviction (within the past five years) was for possessing child pornography.
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